The podcast is hosted by musician Marc Kate, who listens to and discusses three (or so) pieces of music with each guest. It’s a genius format to focus the podcast listener’s attention on Kate’s subject, because we listen to him listen. Davachi brought with her Dennis Wilson’s “Mexico,” James Tenney’s “Critical Band,” and John Frusciante’s “Untitled #11” and “Untitled #12.” In addition to talking about the pieces, Davachi talks about her own performance and compositional work. Subjects include moving from piano to synthesizer, working at a musical instrument museum, and bringing her “fidelity standards” down. There’s a great moment when she talks about how ambient music makes listeners uncomfortable because they don’t know — lost in the timeless-ness of it, in contrast with the attention-deficit nature of much pop culture — “what to do with their hands.”
I wrote about Erika Nesse’s fractal music about a month ago (“A Nautilus of Percussive Expressivity”), and she just posted this week another example that’s well worth a listen. Titled “You Can Wish It All Away,” the short piece, not even two full minutes in length, takes tiny snippets of source audio, in this case a woman speaking, and renders from them a slowly evolving rhythmic flurry. Slivers of syllables — not whole verbal sounds but mere bits of them, so even the softest vowel can serve as a plosive thanks to a hard truncation — become an ever-changing fantasy of computer-generated beatcraft.
Two moments seem to suggest that the piece isn’t directly the result of a computer using fractals to break and reformat the source, but that Nesse herself plays a role in the work’s composition — that she is using the fractal algorithm as a source for musical development, much as the algorithm itself is using the original source audio. The first of these moments appears at about the one-minute mark, when the previously furious mix of layered sounds gives way to a harshly minimalist, staccato metric. The second is at the end, when the original sample audio is heard in full, revealing itself as a line from an early episode of The Twilight Zone: “If I wish hard enough, I can wish it all away.” That’s the main character, a former film star, speaking in the episode titled “The Sixteen-Millimeter Shrine.”
In advance of the album’s release, Lesley Flanigan has posted one track off Hedera for streaming. “Can Barely Feel My Feet” is a layering of her voice, the soft, insistent, prayer-like vowels starting off as a handful of parallel processes but then gathering in denser and denser substructures. At times the intonations bead against each other, the slight variations creating hushed, genteel moiré patterns.
By the end, all that remains is the moiré, a buzzing electronic field where once there was were human voices. The album is due out April 8. The main track on the album, the title piece, has yet to be provided for streaming, but there’s a segment of it in this video, in which Flanigan’s electronically processed vocals are heard against a rhythm provided, apparently, by a malfunctioning tape deck.
Major thanks to Marc Kate of the Why We Listen podcast for having included me in its ever growing catalog of conversations. My entry, released a few days ago, is the 35th in Kate’s Why We Listen series. Previous participants include many folks I admire, including Morgan Packard, Richard Chartier, Cara Rose DeFabio, Erik Davis, Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe, Holly Herndon, Leyland Kirby, Bob Ostertag, Geeta Dayal, and Keith Hennessy.
For each episode of Why We Listen, Kate asks the guest to bring three pieces of music, and then you sit in his studio and listen to them together and talk about them. I selected a piece of turntablism sound art by Maria Chavez, “Kids- TRIAL 18 (Unfinished),” a work of classical minimalism by Madeleine Cocolas, “I Can See You Whisper,” and an Aphex Twin rarity “Avril 14th reversed music not audio.”
Part of the pleasure of the first track to be (pre)released from Julianna Barwick’s forthcoming album, Will, is how her voice merges with the synthesized sounds that accompany it. The piece opens with this slow mix of drone and scale. The drone pulses and the scale, tracing the shape of the pulse by moving up and down on repeat, puts soft pads against something even softer still. (According to NPR it’s a Moog synthesizer, the Mother-32.) And then comes her voice — her voices, really. Barwick’s breathy intonations come and go in looping layers, a folktronic canon. These echoes proceed for the length of the piece, which is titled “Nebula,” tracing the vast contours of an imagined cavern. It’s one of nine tracks on Will, and while “Nebula” is solo, the album features a range of guests: singer Thomas Arsenault (aka Mas Ysa), cellist Maarten Vos, and percussionist from Jamie Ingalls (Chairlift, Tanlines, Beverly). There’s also a video for “Nebula,” directed by Derrick Belcham and shot at Philip Johnson’s historic Glass House:
• November 9, 2015: A short essay I wrote ("Bassel K") will appear in the book The Cost of Freedom, dedicated to Bassel Khartabil, who's been detained in Syria since March 15, 2012. Details at costoffreedom.cc.
• November 21, 2015: Start of semi-annual social-media absentia (through January 4, 2016).
• Early December 2015: Jeff Kolar's album Doorbells will be released by the label Panospria. I wrote the liner notes. In the meanwhile you can listen to his previous album, Smoke Detector.
• December 13, 2015: The 19th anniversary of Disquiet.com.
• January 4, 2016: End of semi-annual social-media absentia (started November 21, 2015).
• February 3, 2016: First class session of the 15-week course I teach at the San Francisco Academy of Art on the role of sound in the media landscape.
• May 18, 2016: Final class session of the 15-week course I teach at the San Francisco Academy of Art on the role of sound in the media landscape.
• Ongoing: The Disquiet Junto series of weekly communal music projects explore constraints as a springboard for creativity and productivity. There is a new project each Thursday afternoon (California time), and it is due the following Monday at 11:59pm: soundcloud.com.
• My book on Aphex Twin's landmark 1994 album, Selected Ambient Works Vol. II, published as part of the 33 1/3 series, an imprint of Bloomsbury, is now in its second printing. It can be purchased at amazon.com, among other places.